On State Fragility and Human Fertility
Managing fragile states – preventing state fragility and engaging in “reconstruction and stabilization” activities when states slip into internal conflict – is much on the minds of policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic. Afghanistan may dominate the media in the immediate future, but Haiti, Yemen, Somalia, Kyrgyzstan, the Congo, and a dozen other spots raise the specter of perpetual engagement by the North Atlantic democracies in failed or failing nation-states. An increasing number of European and North American governments are creating specialized civilian entities to address state fragility, and most governments are thinking carefully on how the civilian and military instruments of diplomacy can be synergized when fragile states become failed states. For those interested in this compelling topic, let me recommend for your perusal an important new report issued in late July. No, I am not pushing another military analysis emanating from NATO headquarters, or a UN report on strengthening donor coordination. Those who want a glimpse of the future, in terms of state fragility, would benefit from a peek at the Population Reference Bureau’s 2010 World Population Data Sheet. The World Population Data Sheet (WPDS) offers any number of sobering data points.
Starting with the basics, there are now 6.892 billion human beings on the planet. Since, during my lifetime, the world’s population more than doubled, I admit to a bit of “future shock;” I had mistakenly thought there were only about 6 billion of us. But my mistake is perhaps a bit understandable since, in 1999, there were “only” six billion human beings. According to the WPDS, we add another billion every dozen years or so. In other words, our 8th billion brother or sister will be added in not-so-far-away 2024. As to whether this growth has anything to do with instability, I assume no particular change in the level of violence or malign behavior by individual humans. But, there will be another 1.1 billion of us to manage in the next 13 or so years, and adding that number – approximately the population of India – will certainly stress natural resources and state capacity, with the potential for increasing global instability. But these gross global numbers are only the beginning of the WPDS’s sobering news. The real potential for a nexus between state fragility and human fertility lies in the geographical distribution of the population increase in the next decade. Worldwide, the “total fertility rate” (the “average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime,” by the WPDS definition) is about 2.5, somewhat above the rate required to keep the world’s population stable. Where do we see growth rates well above 2.5? The answer is: almost everywhere where joblessness is high; where governments struggle to provide basic services; and where natural resources are stressed. In short, population growth rates are highest where potential instability is the highest. Countries where the total fertility rate exceeds 4.0 include Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the very highest rates, above 5.5 total fertility rate? The Congo, Somalia and Yemen – all among the world’s most challenged polities – share this distinction. On the other side of the coin, those countries that have traditionally provided the lion’s share of development assistance to failing states - those countries that have led many peacekeeping and peacemaking initiatives - continue to shrink dramatically in terms of their share of the world’s population. For the member states of the European Union, the current total fertility rate is 1.6, not sufficient even to sustain the current population. In an interesting Population Reference Bureau (PRB) case study, the demographers there note the cases of Germany and Ethiopia, each of which in mid-2010 contains a population between 82 and 85 million. By 2050, Germany’s population is projected to shrink to 72 million, while Ethiopia’s grows to 174 million. I sincerely hope that, by 2050, Ethiopia is in a position to offer stability assistance, if required, to Germany, rather than requiring such assistance from Berlin. Predicting future trends is notoriously tricky. Clearly, it is not certain that rising world population will, in and of itself, cause increased instability or state failure. For donor nations, relative population size is only one factor affecting their power and influence. There may be a Gandhi or two, or another great peacemaker, in the billion babies to be born in the next decade plus. Emerging nations may take up the slack in peacemaking, or even far exceed the impact of the donor nations that have dominated the post-World War II decades.
New technological breakthroughs may lead to unforeseen outcomes. And, for those who perceive a causal connection between Northern/Western dominance and instability in the global South, the relative demographic disempowerment of the North Atlantic states may even be touted as a stabilizing dynamic. Nonetheless, certain outcomes seem as clear as the data in the PRB’s research. The Somalia of 2050, with its 23.5 million inhabitants, will demand more of its government and its physical resources than will today’s 9.4 million inhabitants, and will be an inherently more complex place for outside forces to shape, whether those forces come in the form of international peacekeepers or development resources. The 2010 World Population Data Sheet should be on the reading list for those concerned with state fragility. The interrelationship between state fragility and human fertility should receive more attention by policymakers, and be carefully considered in designing conflict prevention and peacebuilding institutions.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.